Sourdough starter


Hi there –

A simple question to all you experts …

When is a rye sourdough starter ready to be used without the addition of some yeast?

I’ll thank you all for your help and kindness and look forward to any advice.



176 users have voted.


Muff 2010 September 4

I think it is at it's most vigorous when it reaches its maximum volume- about the time it quits rising and starts settling back.

So if you have an established starter, say one you've had for a while, or were given, and you refresh it, it will dramatically increase in volume- when that increase slows or reverses is when I'd use it, given choices. But you certainly can use it either side of optimum, and if you see it approaching optimum and have to rush off for a while you can also chill it until you get back- there's quite a bit of wiggle room, and as to perfection, well, I'll just say that it's OK to settle for "spectacular", "wonderful" or even "purty durn fine".

But I'm not an expert, and you may well get better answers from some of the folks here who are- so don't take my word for things.


rossnroller 2010 September 4

[quote=Muff]as to perfection, well, I'll just say that it's OK to settle for "spectacular", "wonderful" or even "purty durn fine".[/quote]

Speaking of perfection, perfectly said, Muff!

esbkk 2010 September 4

Hi Muff -

I am grateful for your comments. Unfortunately, my initial question wasn’t perhaps put properly, as I was really searching for the point when a starter has become established enough with wild yeast from the flour and air and no longer needs the addition of commercial yeast.

Reading through many websites it is almost always suggested to use a small amount of yeast with a newish starter, therefore how long does it generally take for such a starter to become established with enough wild yeast to be considered an established starter considering a normal refresh on a daily basis?


Muff 2010 September 4

I see what you  mean now. And I don't know the answer. I would guess it's a matter of days, not weeks.

It's also quite possible to start a starter without yeast (sacchromyces cerevisiae) just by making a thickish mix of rye and wheat flours in water and waiting. It may mold first, though. I also wonder if by "yeast" you might mean a sourdough starter, which isn't the same as baker's yeast, of course, but is sometimes referred to by the term.

Help us out here anyone?


rossnroller 2010 September 4

I've never added yeast to my SD starter and never would! I don't know who's suggesting that is a normal modus operandi, but having made many breads and other baked yummies with my wild yeast starter, I can assure you addition of commercial yeast is not necessary. In fact, in my experience - based on a few times I did add a yeast spike to doughs (not my starter!) because that was directed in a recipe - added commercial yeast detracts from the lovely depth of flavour you get from pure SD.

I can only speak for myself, but I am certain many if not most folk on this site would share similar views.

If your starter is mousse-like and peaking with a nice airy dome, it's ready - NO added yeast required.

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 September 4

How old is your starter esbkk?  I guess the only way to find out is to make a loaf!  What have you got to lose?


Happiness is making bread.

esbkk 2010 September 4

Hi All –

Many thanks for the quick replies.

My starter is now nearly one month old; it is roughly a 250 gram starter and maintained that way on a daily basis, i.e. dispose approx. half of it and feed daily with each of 75 gram of rye flour and water.

It was never my intention to add commercial yeast into the starter.

The only bread I ever baked so far had a very acceptable taste but not the form, even though I allowed it to rise in a German Gärkorb. A German friend suggested that the yeasty part of the sourdough is not yet established.

Many of the US-posted recipes seem to suggest a small amount of yeast added to the dough, something I do not want to do, hence my original question.    


Sid Bailey 2010 September 4

I am no expert but my understanding of yeast and starters is as follows.  Sourdough makes bread fairly slowly - proving can be over 8 to 12 hours and the resulting bread is too acid for people who want to combine it with marmalade or such preserves.   I think such bread is magnificent but I eat it with cheese or chorizo.

If you follow much the same recipe but add 10g of yeast to the starter AFTER you have removed it from your main stock the proving is reduced to 2 hours or so and the bread is made quickly and easily in one working day - the acidity of the bread is much lower so the marmalade freaks in the family are quite happy with it. Your only worry is making sure yeast does not get into your stock which will be ruined.I guess. 

Recipes for "semi-leaven" bread are easily found for precise deatails.

rossnroller 2010 September 5

MOST of the SD bread I have made is not sour at all! And it makes very good toast, whether for marmalade, savoury spreads, or whatever.

That myth that SD bread has sourness as an identifying flavour quality probably comes from the term 'sourdough', which really just means natural leaven, and/or the fact that the most famous SD bread, from San Francisco, is indeed sour (from all accounts - I haven't tasted it).

Of course, using various techniques you can make your SD bread sour if you particularly want to.

Muff 2010 September 5

Sid and Ross are quite right, in my experience.

San Francisco sour dough is not sharply sour- it's quite a mild, background kind of thing, but it's distinct, and it's not just that it's slightly sour, but that the flavor is distinctly different- not assertive, but definitely distinct and unique.

My daughter lives a few blocks from the Acme Bakery in Berkeley, and once when visiting I gained permission to work a shift there. I spent most of the time forming dough. By the end of the night. my hands had a distinct odor; it lingered for a couple of days! But there was nothing to make one think of lemon juice, pickles, or sauerkraut, for example.

Curiousity: we make a loaf where the ferment is based on a simplified pan au levain: a small amount of yeasted dough is used as starter in an overnight  poolish, which is then made into a dough which is allowed to finish fermenting some hours -four to six, as a rule, then made up and stored in a cold cabinet another two to 24 hours before baking. Has a modest but faithful following. Part of the flour is replaced with a "soaker", i.e., a seed mixture that can be "8-grain base" or "9-grain mix" or cracked wheat with more or less wheat berries, pretty much whatever, in an equal amount of hot water. That's left to soak over night and added to the dough in the morning. The water is also reduced in the dough stage to compensate for the water in the soaker.

Often the dough made that way is on the sour side- but not always, and it seems to be that in summer, when shop temperatures are higher, the dough ends up more sour. But there is no true "sourdough" involved. Purty durn fine, though ...

I would say that after a month Esbkk's starter is a true sour starter now.


Muff 2010 September 5

Misread some of the things I responded to earlier. I do want to say that I have made natural sourdough loaves that were downright tart- and not that good, to may taste- but that it is hardly a given that "sourdough" products will be "sour".

I hope this muddies the waters sufficiently!

Good luck to all,


ps- it's been quite a difficult period for me at work and when I came home today I was pleased to have a nice conversation to settle down to. I grabbed a beer, wrote a bit, went and delivered a wedding cake, and then came home to finish visiting But now I'm thinking I'll just have another beer or three and not worry about being coherent, so if I don't respond you'll understand, I do hope!



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